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Gaza increasingly threatens Democrats’ Trump-era unity

Welcome to The Campaign Moment, your guide to the biggest developments in the 2024 election — including increasingly fraught foreign policy choices.

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One of the strengths of the Democratic Party these days is, rather counterintuitively, its unity. The century-old Will Rogers adage — “I am not a member of any organized political party; I am a Democrat” — has been strikingly inoperable for years. The boogeyman that is former president Donald Trump has injected Democrats with a common purpose and turned its ascendant left flank into (mostly) team players.

A war in Gaza that has cut the Democratic Party roughly in half has long threatened that. And with the events of the past week — an Israeli strike that killed seven humanitarian aid workers from the World Central Kitchen — Democratic unity is being tested like seldom before in the Trump era.

To my mind, it comes at the most inopportune of moments for President Biden, as he seeks to rally a base that is pretty unenthusiastic about him for a 2024 rematch with Trump.

The aid workers’ deaths have punctuated the heavy civilian death toll in the war. And the situation has pushed the Democrats’ divides over the war more into the open. While Biden has sought to pair rather unequivocal support for Israel with the occasional harsh words for its leadership’s prosecution of the war, members of his party are clearly losing patience with that approach.

To wit:

Progressives in Congress are circulating a draft letter calling on Biden to stop weapons transfers to Israel.Key Democrats are balking at the administration’s plan to sell billions of dollars worth of F-15 fighter jets to Israel.Former Obama administration officials are openly criticizing Biden for talking tough about Israel but not backing it up with actions.Perhaps most strikingly, on Thursday, top Biden ally Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) now says the president should put conditions on aid to Israel if it bucks the administration’s wishes by proceeding with a planned large-scale invasion of the southern Gaza city of Rafah. “I’ve never said that before, “Coons noted on CNN. “I’ve never been here before.”

It’s far from a full-scale revolt, and Democrats are largely giving Biden space to operate. But the push is clearly away from his chosen policy of, as White House national security spokesman John Kirby put it even Thursday, “ironclad” support for Israel’s self-defense.

It appears to be having some impact, with Biden for the first time Thursday suggesting a potential change in U.S. policy if Israel doesn’t do more to address humanitarian problems and protect aid workers.

But Israel has bucked the administration’s wishes before, and Biden’s threat is still rather nonspecific — in a way that the growing chorus of Israel critics in his party are likely to regard as insufficient, particularly if they don’t see Israel doing enough to adjust course.

Meanwhile, the party’s base continues to drift away from Israel. A Gallup poll last week showed Democrats disapproved of Israel’s handling of the war, 75 percent to 18 percent. A Quinnipiac University poll showed Democrats sympathized with the Palestinians more than the Israelis by a whopping 48-21 margin.

The problem is that the American people, writ large, and many Democratic officeholders are still more aligned with Israel. Any action that Biden takes to truly get tough on a top U.S. ally and shore up his base could come at a cost with the broader electorate. It could also lay bare the divisions in his own party.

Trump seems equally flummoxed about how to deal with the tough issue, telling radio host Hugh Hewitt that Israelis are “losing the PR war” and urging Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to “get it over with.” But we haven’t yet seen Republicans raise concerns about his approach, and he doesn’t need to make the hard choices Biden does right now.

Democratic divisions have been there from the moment the war began in October. But aside from the effort to get Democratic voters to register their protest by voting “uncommitted” against Biden in recent primaries, they haven’t really busted out into the open.

The fact that they haven’t yet is a testament to the Democrats’ newfound commitment to unity. But just as Trump arouses great passions in the Democratic base, so does this sleeping giant of an issue. And the giant appears to be perking up.

I believe one of the biggest challenges to understanding the 2024 race is that our country is so polarized and the candidates are so defined that we’re unlikely to see big, statistically significant shifts in the polls.

But it’s getting safer to say that Biden has gained ground in recent weeks — at least a little, and at least nationally.

The president has seen some of his best high-quality national polls in a while, including being up four points head-to-head over Trump in a Marquette University Law School poll, being up three in the Quinnipiac poll and being up two in an NPR/PBS/Marist College poll. However, in all three polls, the gap is within the margin of error. The counterpoint is a Fox News poll showing Trump ahead by five.

Biden got some bad news in swing states this week, with a new batch of Wall Street Journal polls showing him trailing in 6 of 7 states (three states showed results within the margin of error). But he has gained in Bloomberg swing-state polling, and he led in a new poll in all-important Pennsylvania this week.


Total

number

of votes

per state

2.5M

1M

100K

10K

Share of

non-Trump votes

AK

States with

closed primaries

MN

MT

WA

ID

ND

IA

OR

UT

WY

SD

49%

CA

NV

CO

NE

IL

NM

MO

21%

KS

AZ

OK

AR

LA

HI

TX

22%

ME

NH

VT

MI

NY

RI

MA

32%

OH

NJ

PA

WI

CT

DE

MD

IN

WV

VA

NC

KY

SC

TN

DC

40%

MS

AL

GA

FL

Total

number

of votes

per state

2.5M

1M

100K

10K

ME

AK

Share of

non-Trump votes

NH

VT

States with

closed primaries

MN

MI

NY

MT

WA

ID

MA

RI

ND

32%

IA

OH

NJ

OR

UT

WY

SD

PA

CT

WI

49%

CA

DE

MD

NV

CO

NE

IN

WV

VA

IL

NC

NM

MO

KY

KS

21%

SC

AZ

TN

DC

40%

OK

AR

MS

LA

AL

GA

HI

FL

TX

22%

Speaking of party divides: We’ve focused quite a bit in this newsletter on the ongoing protest votes against Trump in Republican primaries. And after that continued unabated Tuesday — with around 1 in 5 voting against him across four states, nearly a month after he effectively secured the GOP nomination — we thought it a good time to break it all down.

You can see that piece here.

A few key points from our look at this dynamic:

One is that these protest votes are proving stubborn. The 1 in 5 voting against Trump is similar to the March 19 primaries and not that far off where things stood shortly after Trump’s main GOP rival, Nikki Haley, dropped out on March 6. This problem isn’t going away, or even really fading. (And there simply aren’t as many Democratic protest votes against Biden right now.)The second is that while Haley has tended to do well among non-Republicans, the trend has very notably continued even in states with “closed” primaries (i.e. ones in which only registered Republicans can vote). An average of 1 in 5 people have also voted against Trump in closed primaries in Florida and Kansas on March 19 and Connecticut and New York on Tuesday.

As for whether this is a real liability for Trump in the general election? The jury’s out. But as I noted in the piece, both George W. Bush in 2000 and Biden in 2020 continued to cede nearly as much of the vote as Trump is now after their top opponents bowed out.

Both won in November.

Biden rebukes Israel over aid workers, but his Gaza policy is unchanged (Washington Post)Why Trump wants to game Nebraska’s electoral vote, mapped (Washington Post)Abortion vs. immigration fuels heated Biden-Trump rematch (Washington Post)Centrist group No Labels won’t field a ticket in presidential election (Washington Post)Many Democrats Are Worried Trump Will Beat Biden. This One Isn’t. (New York Times)How Trump Is Fracturing Minority Communities (The Atlantic)How Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Could Doom Joe Biden (Politico)

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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